Faculty Research Leave at Union University
In recent years, some faculty members have traveled the world to conduct research, while others have stayed close to home and used the time away from their classrooms to read and reflect on future projects.
Each faculty research leave experience is unique. For that reason, a series of audio interviews has been produced to provide examples of how these opportunities can enhance scholarship and teaching.
Micah Watson, Director of the Center for Politics and Religion and an Assistant Professor of Political Science
Watson earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University and returned to his alma mater for a one-year faculty research project as a James Madison Fellow. He used this opportunity to delve into the writings of 17th century philosopher John Locke. The Princeton library houses about 900 books directly related to Locke's work. Watson used those resources to explore writings about matters of faith as related to the political world. He says his time as a Madison Fellow re-energized both his classroom teaching and his writing ambitions.
Watson: "Getting away for a full year, living in a different place, interacting with colleagues - many of whom were not believers - reinvigorated something in me, both in thinking hard about what I was interested in, but also in communicating some faith things to folks who aren't normally used to that."
Roger Stanley, Assistant Professor of English
Stanley used a semester-long faculty research leave to finish a book in what he calls the somewhat new and hybrid genre of creative non-fiction. His book features Lucinda Williams, a critically acclaimed vocalist and songwriter. Stanley spent time at stops along her concert tour and describes his finished product as part biography, part memoir and part travel narrative. He says the project strengthened his ability to teach within a recently added writing track within the English major at Union. Stanley had been teaching at Union for 21 years prior to his leave in spring 2011. He says the research leave made his book possible and reinvigorated his classroom teaching.
Stanley: "Union, while retaining its teaching focus, has given us more and more opportunities for research. Folks should take advantage of that."
Terry Blakley, Professor of Social Work
Blakley specializes in the field of trauma-faith-resilience. Prior to 1999, she explored the subject as a scholar and social worker. But that year, her first husband was murdered during a home invasion in Miami. She says that horrible event led to her becoming "doubly informed," with a new view of trauma from "inside her skin." Since joining the faculty at Union, she has published academic articles in this field, but she wanted to work on a literature project that could convey trauma-faith-resilience information to new audiences. During her faculty research leave, she completed a 300-page first draft for a novel.
Blakley: "I don't think I'll ever be the same after this one semester that I will always remember in my life as one period of time that I lived the life of the writer. I was very serious about my writing. That was my work."
Stephen Carls, University Professor of History and Department Chair
Carls and his wife Alice-Catherine Carls are working on a major project that will examine Europe at war from 1914-1945. Through the years, the two historians have made scores of trips to Europe. But Carls says there was "no glamour" and there were "no trips to Paris" during his research leave. Carls remained in his home office, looking into a computer screen and reading a "huge stack of books." He says long, uninterrupted periods of time are an essential resource on such a far-reaching academic project.
Carls: "It looks quite doable when you start, and you figure you can knock it out in short order. But I should know better, because I've done projects before and you think that you can get them done quickly and in fact it ends up taking much more time than you originally anticipated."
Bradley G. Green, Associate Professor of Christian Thought & Tradition
Green took his wife Diane and three children to Tyndale House in Cambridge, England. They lived in Cambridge for four months. Green drew upon the resources of this world-renowned center for biblical research as he worked on four book projects. In addition, Green took on additional reading, including a study of Latin and Hebrew grammars that he explains was "just for fun." He valued the concentrated time to think about these projects and interact with some of the world's greatest theologians.
Green: "I think students need to see that their professors are still learning and still thinking and that there is a real active mind in there in front of them, teaching their classes."
C. David McClune, University Professor of Music
McClune has taught music and art classes at Union since 1980. His faculty research leave did not revolve around a writing project. He simply wanted to experience many of the churches and museums of Europe and incorporate his discoveries into classroom instruction. So he spent about three months living in a variety of Italian cities and another three weeks visiting Paris and even western Turkey. He visited about 500 churches, toured hundreds of museums, and brought home about 16,000 pictures. More importantly, he says the experience rejuvenated his enthusiasm for teaching.
McClune: "I'd plan to go to maybe one museum, and then on the way I'd find two or three small museums that I'd never heard of -- and I could visit them. I could go visit churches that were not on my big list of places to go. Having the time to really discover…was just amazing."
Bryan Dawson, Professor of Mathematics and Department Chair
Dawson used his research leave to work on two books for the gifted student market: Supplemental Mathematics for the Curious: Number Theory and Supplemental Mathematics for the Curious: Number Systems. As the titles imply, these are not primary textbooks. Dawson's goal was to create a resource for advanced students who need extra challenges. He hopes these first two books lead to a series of titles "for the curious," and he says his research leave provided the time necessary to get started.
Dawson: "I learned through this time how to pace myself, how to go through the writing process for a book in a way that now I might be able to spend some summers writing additional books-which the publisher wants me to do."
David Thomas, Professor of History
As Thomas wrote a book about the influence of historical fiction on children's literature, he found himself wanting to write some of those stories himself. So he used part of his research leave to create six pieces of historical fiction for children. His advice to future research applicants: limit your apprehension and target a contribution you wish to make in your field but have not yet found time to pursue.
Thomas: "So much of what we love and so many of the ways in which we're rewarded come out of the classroom and what we teach. (Research leave) can feel like a big risk… I thought it was a wonderful opportunity and if I get the chance to do it again, I'll certainly do it again. I very much enjoyed it."
Cindy Jayne, Associate Provost
Jayne started out planning to spend a number of weeks in Qingdao, China to prepare for a Consortium for Global Education summer conference at Qingdao University in 2006. Although that plan didn't materialize, she was able to spend time in Asia after the conference with Union students in the Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies program. They were conducting collaborative research in a nearby city. She also had time to explore academic relationships with universities in China and Thailand. While at Yonok University in Lampang, Thailand, she took part in a conference for Thai instructors of English as a Second Language.
Jayne: "There's no doubt that this leave gave me the opportunity to observe more in-depth the kinds of things that are important in developing those partnerships from institution to institution. That was an invaluable part of all of this."
G. Jan Wilms, Professor of Computer Science and Department Chair
Sometimes, a faculty research leave enables the accomplishment of two largely unrelated goals. Wilms was able to work on a lab-based manual to use in his classes and do overseas teaching in the classrooms of Thailand. Although Wilms taught his classes in English, the trip had the added benefit of allowing his two sons to become immersed in Thai language and culture. Apart from his teaching duties, Wilms found the time he needed to complete his writing project.
Wilms: "I was only teaching two classes, so they were really not all that time-consuming. I was able to do a lot of my research (for the lab manual) even while I was over there. The benefit of my research was I had my materials with me. I didn't really have to have access to a giant library."
Jean Marie Walls, Associate Professor of French and Chair, Department of Language
Walls used her research leave to spend time in French-speaking Quebec City, one of the Canada's most vibrant intellectual and cultural centers. She worked with educational institutions and museums to document changes in culture and infrastructure following the Province of Quebec's "Quiet Revolution." The result was a number of papers and academic presentations, including a piece on the development of Quebec's museum system.
Walls: "When you're working with educational systems and other universities and museum systems, summer is not really the ideal time to work. So the opportunity to be able to interface with people during our normal semester was a great opportunity. The timing was great for me because I had the time to research and write."
Pam Sutton, Professor of English
The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities offers 12 study experiences under its "Best Semester" program, and Union students take part in many of these opportunities. Sutton spent four weeks of her research leave at the Los Angeles Film Studies Center, where a Christian world view is integrated with an introductory exploration of everyday work in Hollywood. She sat in on classes and talked to people working in the industry.
Sutton: "Our students today are so visually oriented that they are drawn to films… I teach 'Literature of Film' for the English majors and minors. It just helped me to have been out there (in California) to see the story, to tour the studios, to talk to the screenwriters, to talk with the technicians and to explain to our students back here that Hollywood is a mission field."
George H. Guthrie, Benjamin W. Perry Professor of Bible
Spring semester 2005, Guthrie and his family took up residence at Tyndale House in Cambridge, England. Tyndale House is one of the world's leading facilities for scholars conducting biblical research. Guthrie worked on several projects, including a commentary on 2 Corinthians that has been years in the making and could reach 1,000 pages in length. A key benefit was the ability to fellowship with other scholars working on a wide array of projects. Guthrie and his family also were able to travel within the United Kingdom.
Guthrie: "If God gifts us with opportunities to go into cross-cultural situations and academic contexts which really push us, we ought to take those opportunities. Because those can be stimulating in a way that marks us for the rest of our lives."
Bobby C. Rogers, Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence
The Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press is among the most prestigious awards of its kind, attracting as many as 900 entries a year from all over the world. Rogers won the prize in 2009 with a collection of poetry tentatively entitled "Paper Anniversary." Rogers used his one-year research leave to finish up the collection, writing 10 poems and publishing work in eight journals. As part of the award, the University of Pittsburgh Press agrees to publish the winning entry.
Rogers: "It let me think in broader terms and write poems that are much more inter-related than I might normally do. It resulted in a more consistent group of poems and it played a role in getting my book done and ultimately getting it published."
Patricia (Patty) L. Hamilton, Associate Professor of English
Hamilton used a 15-month leave (summer included) to publish two academic articles. She responded to the call from a West Coast editor to examine a topic within the realm of British women novelists from the 1750s. That project built upon some research she had started years earlier for her doctoral dissertation. After meeting that deadline and getting her work accepted, Hamilton realized there were other unanswered questions that could form the basis of a second article. That project involved primary research, something her leave allowed her to pursue in a timely and complete fashion.
Hamilton: "I think this is how scholarship works at its best -- answering one question will unearth a new set of questions that call out to be answered."
Gavin T. Richardson, Associate Professor of English
Among the projects Richardson completed in his semester-long leave was a 25-page research paper examining the reverse image of an ancient Roman coin. Richardson's work offered possible explanations for the design based on his readings of history and literature.
Richardson: "I don't think you can overestimate the importance of time for a project like this - time to read, time to think, time to dig." He adds: "It's nice to have a protected block of time to think these thoughts and chase dead-ends and do the massive amounts of reading it takes to produce high quality scholarship."
James Patterson, University Professor and Associate Dean, School of Christian Studies
J.R. Graves is considered the father of Landmarkism in Baptist history. Patterson proposed doing research for a book about Graves' life. His semester of leave time made possible an entire week of research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and three additional days at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. With this head start on research, Patterson began writing the book in the summer following his leave. The academic benefits don't end with the book project.
Patterson: "Every other year I teach a course in Baptist history, and I think some of what I found will spill over into those classes, both undergraduate and master's level."